When is a good age for my child to learn a second language?
Will my child be confused if I start too early?
Will it affect my child's mental development in a negative way?
Will it only confuse my child if I introduce a second language to them and they end up not learning how to speak at all?
Relax! There is no risk in introducing a different language to a child at an early age. It will not leave him or her mute or affect their language development in a negative way.
Bilingual children are exposed to more than one language from birth with no detrimental affects. It is also actually now fairly common for parents, toddler groups, kindergartens and primary schools to expose children to other languages at an increasingly early age even when there is no requirement for a second language, i.e., the family are monolingual and live in the primary language country.
The main thing that may happen by introducing a second or third language is mixing and matching - the use of words from more than one language in a sentence. There may also be a “lack” of words in one language as they have been learnt in the other. These points aside, the overall language development path will become, in reality, more advanced in terms of the child´s grasp of and ear for the wider variety of sounds required by different languages. Also, any lack of vocabulary is quickly equalised as the child begins active socializing at nursery/kindergarten and, as mentioned before, their innate ability to make themselves understood.
A good example of this innate ability is if you watch a young child on holiday in a foreign country. It’s easy to see how they overcome the constraints of language and find a way to get across what they want or mean. Children naturally find ways to communicate.
Another concern that is often heard about is that speech will be delayed however again, this is rarely sufficient to warrant concern and any delay or deficiency in vocabulary is usually within the boundaries given for language development in monolingual children and quickly equalised within a short time-frame.
At the end of the day, stop worrying. Giving your child the opportunity to learn foreign languages is an amazing gift if it is within your grasp to give it. Not only will the language(s) be useful in later life, but it/they will instill a sense of acceptance and understanding of different ways of communicating and different cultures. The one piece of advice that is so often heard when it come to learning foreign languages is "the earlier the better" so start early and encourage them every step of the way.